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Indoor LI tennis courts ready to fully open on Monday

Manny Iqbal, Director of Tennis at Port Washington

Manny Iqbal, Director of Tennis at Port Washington Tennis Academy on Harbor Road, Friday, July 3, 2020. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Indoor tennis facilities across Long Island are ready to fully open on Monday after having been shut down since mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

New York State moved indoor tennis from Phase 4 to Phase 3 and summer camps were allowed to open on June 29, so many indoor facilities already have opened to their junior players. Now, everybody is allowed in the house.

But it is a different house. Arrive with your mask on, plexiglass at reception counters, sanitizer bottles as abundant as cans of balls, social distancing decals, bring your own water bottles and towels and follow the signage to navigate your once familiar environment.

“We’ve been working on it since March 15 when we closed,” said Claude Okin, CEO of Sportime, which operates six indoor facilities on the Island comprising 42 courts. “The answer is a lot of effort, some money, not massive amounts of money. We’ve purchased and installed a lot of plexiglass, we’ve purchased and installed a lot of disinfection capacity, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipe stations so the staff and the members and the players have all the tools. New web pages, lots of communication. There’s a ton of signage.”

That’s pretty much what every facility has done. The venerable Port Washington Tennis Academy is in its 55th year of operation and is the Island’s largest indoor venue with 17 courts. It’s where John McEnroe and Vitas Gerulaitis honed their games as youngsters.

“We’ve been working for months on the protective side, plastic all over the place, in front of the pro shop counter, the reception counters,” said Dick Zausner, president of the academy founded by his late father, Hy. “We’ve closed off the food areas. We’re closing the showers, we’re closing the locker rooms, but we are leaving the bathrooms open. We do what we have to do. It’s neither cheap nor pleasant.”

At Christopher Morley Tennis at the namesake park in North Hills, the facility has been open for a while after it got permission to operate as if outdoors.

“Because we have these huge garage doors that open, plus all our other doors plus our ceiling fans and the air conditioning in the office and the lobby, the owner got permission from [Nassau County] for us to open as an outside-type club,” said Hilary Bressler, program director.

Knowing that things had to be done differently in all facets of the business, Bressler created what she calls the concierge club of Long Island, tailoring the experiences individually, especially when so many players were due credits for time purchased in advance before the shutdown.

“Everybody has got a different situation. For kids here in the spring, for adults here in the spring, and we couldn’t give them the rest of their lessons, so if they paid in full we are figuring out all the credits and allowing them to use that money however they want,” Bressler said. “Everyone has a different comfort level. I’ve had people calling who have never played before, looking for something for their kids to do and they don’t want to go back to camp, so we are really customizing tennis. Very proud we are able to do that.”

At Robbie Wagner’s Tournament Training Center in Glen Cove, there will be a Level 5 USTA junior tournament this coming week.

“Only one guest per child and you have to spread the matches out,” Wagner said. “We have to use special match apps, the players have to keep their own score, they aren’t allowed to touch a scorecard. Two cans of balls, each player uses their own balls to serve.”

The highly social aspect of the game, especially in doubles, is more likely to be conducted in the parking lot rather than a postmatch gathering in a venue’s heretofore social areas.

“Once you are done playing you have to be off the court, no socializing,” said Jonathan Klee, part owner of Nassau Indoor Tennis in Inwood and director of the USTA Long Island Region.

“Indoor tennis courts are cavernous facilities, social distancing will be easy to maintain. We don’t anticipate any problems as long as everyone complies with proper social distancing and are PPE compliant.”

During all the angst caused by the shutdown of the tennis business, Okin sees a some good things.

“Tennis, we have huge spaces,” he said. “What’s going very well is the playing and learning of tennis. That feels very safe because the courts are giant and there is lots of room to distance.”

And room to get together.

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